In a spaceship - not too dissimilar to the set of Blur’s ‘The Universal’ - are a crew of scientists investigating the planet Solaris, a colourful body of oceans, pinks rivers, and red snow. Critically, Solaris is a conscious planet, which communicates with its human visitors by sending envoys of its own – first objects, and later human-esque ‘copies’ drawn from the scientists’ own memories.
Polly Frame does well as the psychologist Kris Kelvin, conflicted between her scientific interests and emotional passions when greeted by her ‘visitor’ – former lover Ray. Jade Ogugua’s Sartorius offers the necessary contrasting voice of scepticism, peaking in her compassionate speech against the scientists continuing the ‘destroying ape’ imperialist legacy of previous human explorers. Indeed, both Kelvin and Sartorian are driven by differently-balanced combinations of scientific and emotional interests, including a desire to escape – or give reason for - their own loneliness on Earth. Ultimately, Keegan Joyce’s Ray provides the most haunting representation of loneliness, driven to crisis by confusion and isolation from his own past.
The unknowability and distance of the outer space setting mirrors the production’s central theme of loneliness. Many of the production’s most poignant lines come from Hugo Weaving’s Dr. Gibarian, who interacts with the crew via a series of pre-recorded video diaries. In Gibarian’s own tragic story, the audience sees the aforementioned conflicting scientific and emotional interests coalesce – on discovering Solaris’ consciousness, he triumphantly proclaims ‘Finally, we are not alone’.
Gibarian’s video links are but the surface of the production’s technical merits. Hyemi Shin’s sterile, white spaceship interior is visually stunning, as are the ethereal seascapes projected between the (naturally fluid) scene changes, facilitated by the set’s complex moving parts system.
David Greig’s adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel is unique from earlier screen retellings of the story; the spaceship’s crew are more vocal, often engaging in heated debate in their attempts to better understand Solaris. This does more than make the plot accessible for the theatre context; it reinforces that even in frequent, lively debate with others, the sentiment of loneliness can pervade the individual psyche.
Director Matthew Lutton plays with striking images, at times reminiscent of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. A stark comparison is drawn between the young girl and mature woman sat alone at the start and end of the play – perhaps both hopeful to make contact. In asking who are we as individuals then, Solaris concludes that our ultimate commonality is our experience of loneliness.
Solaris runs at the Royal Lyceum until 5 October, then at Lyric Hammersmith, London, between 10 October and 2 November.